The Stanford Prison Experiment - The Psychology of Imprisonment

The stanford prison experiment is a study of the psychology of imprisonment. It studied how humans responded to captivity, and particularly, to the real world conditions of the prison life. This experiment was regulated in 1971 by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University. Him and his colleagues created an experiment that looked at the impact of becoming a prisoner or a prison guard. According to Kendra Cherry, Zimbardo is a former classmate of Stanley Milgram who is mostly know about for his obedience experiment.

He wanted to investigate further the impact of situational variables on human behaviour. The main purpose of the researchers was to have a good understanding of how participants would react when they are placed in a prison environment.

In order for the researchers to find the results, the researchers set up a prison in the basement of stanford University psychology building, and then they proceeded to select twenty four undergraduates to play the roles of either the prisoners or guards.

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Moreover, according to Kendra Cherry, most participants were chosen from a larger group of seventy volunteers because they had no criminal background, lacked psychological issues, and had no significant medical issues. The volunteers agreed to participate during a one to two-week period in exchange for fifteen dollars a day. The prison also included three six by nine-foot prison cells. Each cell had the capacity to hold three prisoners and other rooms across from the cells were for jail guards. There was also one tiny space which was used as a solitary confinement if the prisoner was to misbehave.

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In my journal, I will be talking about my analysis of the two frames and my criticisms about the documentary. The two types of frames related to this documentary are Political and Structural frames which will be elaborated more on.


The first frame that I would associate the Stanford Prison Experiment would be the political frame. According to Professor Geoffrey Eve, the political frame are organizations as arenas, contests, jungles - compete for power and resources. They are always in conflict, competition, struggles for power. Conflict also occurs because of diverse values, beliefs, interests, behaviours and needs. Proper leadership can manage these interests and allocate power and resources - build coalitions, negotiating, ensure justice is achieved. In the documentary, this is clearly evident because the documentary was suppose to last fourteen days but it was stopped after six days because of what was happening to the participants. The guards were becoming disparaging and the prisoners started showing signs of anger. Even though the prisoners and the guards were allowed to interchange, the interactions between them started to become confrontational and belligerent.

The guards started to behave in confrontational ways which led to prisoners to become angry and violent by swearing. According to Kendra Cherry, five of the prisoners began to experience severe negative emotions, which included crying and acute anxiety and had to be released from the study early. Moreover, the guards were controlling to the prisoners to the point where the prisoners were not allowed to use the bathroom, instead they would do their business in the bucket which were rarely removed from their prison cells. Moreover, there is also the structural frame. The structural frame is the architecture of the organization. According to Professor Geoffrey Eve, there are goals, efficiency, roles, relationships, responsibilities, rules, policies, procedures, chain of command, decision making. The challenge for leaders is to maintain the structure alignment with current environment, technology, and goals - when they become misaligned, problems do occur.

In the documentary, this is clearly evident because Professor Zimbardo implemented some procedures that do not actually happen in real prison such as blindfolding prisoners, making them wear women’s clothes, not allowing them to wear an underwear; only wearing long dresses, and not allowing them to look out the windows. The experiment also went sideways on day two. According to Kendra cherry, one prisoner developed a psychosomatic rash all over his body when he found out that his parole has been turned down. Also, after six days, the experiment was ended because they feared that another prisoner would be seriously injured. Criticisms I feel like the Stanford Prison experiment is unethical. When it comes to research, it fails to meet certain requirements for it to be ethical. However, according to Kendra Cherry, she acknowledged that Professor Zimbardo said that even though the study was ended a week earlier, he did not end it soon enough.

In addition, all the participants were males. In the documentary, they tried to understand how mostly males would react in that environment. No women were included or people from different backgrounds. We are all raised differently, we look at things differently, and we act differently. so, that would be interesting to look at how different types of people from different backgrounds would react. The documentary also did not show what the real truth of what really goes behind bars. Even though Professor Zimbardo tried to make that experiment look like a reality, I feel like there are a lot of situational variables of prison life that he left out. Also, many of the people who were participating in the experience where white middle class males which makes it difficult to analyze the results for the wider population.

Course of Action

The best course of action will be implementing the Human Resource Frame. According to Professor Geoffrey Eve, the Human Resource Frame understands the workers, stakeholders, and their relationships, feelings, skills. It also understands that individuals have needs - motivate to get the job done - empowerment. There is open communication, team building, support and coaching, care, decisions are often made to maintain the “fit” between the people and the organization. I would advise the guards for the Stanford Prison Experiments to go smoother with the prisoners. Don’t try to be authoritarian so much with them; understand that the prisoners are also human beings. Be strict with the prisoners but also be fair with them. Do not beat them and allow them to use public bathrooms just like normal people.

Updated: May 21, 2021
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The Stanford Prison Experiment - The Psychology of Imprisonment. (2020, Sep 05). Retrieved from

The Stanford Prison Experiment - The Psychology of Imprisonment essay
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